The Queens, New York street rapper Action Bronson (aka Ariyan Arslani) is headed back to Australia for the first time since appearing at Eminem’s Rapture 2014 alongside Kendrick Lamar and J Cole. In 2014 the popular performer cancelled no less than two festival tours, last citing “recording commitments”, to the dismay of fans. Now he’s touring behind 2015’s major label debut, Mr Wonderful.
Arslani has an unusual heritage, being born to a migrant Muslim Albanian father and a Jewish New Yorker mother. He was a latecomer to rap. Initially, Arslani pursued a career as a gourmet chef. The Kool G Rap devotee found himself at a loose end after breaking his leg – and started to seriously write raps, often about… food. Sounding uncannily like Ghostface Killah, he aired mixtapes. In 2011 Arslani dropped the indie album Dr Lecter. He attracted the attention of Em’s manager Paul Rosenberg – and ended up on Warner via Vice Records.
Combining samples and live instrumentation, and balancing ’90s nostalgia with contemporary experimentation, Mr Wonderful captures Arslani maturing lyrically and artistically. The MC worked with big-name producers – Mark Ronson, Drake cohort Noah “40” Shebib, and longtime champion The Alchemist. Hip-hoppers will know 2014’s single Easy Rider, helmed by Brooklyn’s Party Supplies – it’s like ZZ Top mashed up with the Wu-Tang Clan. Ronson masterminded the recent jaunty hit Baby Blue, featuring Chance The Rapper.
Yet Mr Wonderful revels in Arslani’s eccentricities, with him actually singing. Digging retro rock, he (and Ronson) penned a letter to Billy Joel asking permission to sample his cult Zanzibar for Brand New Car. And, though Arslani has touted Mr Wonderful as “happy, funny, rugged, rough rap”, A Light In The Addict reveals a deeper, melancholy side.
In 2016 Arslani is also a countercultural celebrity chef – with a fully-fledged TV show, Fuck, That’s Delicious, on Viceland. But he has had his trials. Those constant comparisons to Ghostface culminated in a feud with the fierce Wu MC. (It’s now quashed.) Then, never the most politically-attuned, Arslani ignited an even greater controversy when last year women’s rights activists petitioned for his show at Toronto’s North By Northeast to be canned because of 2011’s provocative Consensual Rape. Today Arslani “regrets” what on Twitter he dismissed as “a lost track”, telling Music Feeds that he welcomes discussion about sexism in hip-hop, while defending freedom of expression. “It’s all about communication,” Arslani says.
Music Feeds: Are you looking forward to coming back to Australia – finally?
Action Bronson: Ah, man, I can’t wait – it’s been too long, man, it’s been too long!
MF: You were last here on that giant Eminem roadshow. Was it fun?
AB: Yeah, it was great. I mean, me, J Cole and Kendrick, we all travelled together and we met Em there. We developed some sort of rapport and it was a cool time. It was good travelling to Australia and New Zealand the way that we did because they fucking travel first-class everything, hotels… It was incredible. Great time.
MF: It’s almost a year since Mr Wonderful came out. I wondered if you feel like you achieved what you set out to with that record?
AB: Well, I feel like yes and no – you’re never satisfied. But I feel like, for that time, I was satisfied with it. There were some things now I look back I would have done differently, but not much. It’s just a stepping stone. Now the next project is gonna be even better – and then the next project even better than that. You just have to keep trying to top yourself. I feel like that record did incredible things for me in my life. It was a great learning experience and just a great time in my life I’ll never forget.
MF: Did you ever get any feedback from Billy Joel to Brand New Car?
AB: Well, we had to give him the handwritten letter. I didn’t get any feedback from him, but I think that we done him proud. Recently, I interviewed Phil Collins for some sort of music website and we spoke about samples of music and he’s flattered by it. I feel like anybody would be flattered by us sampling and stuff like that. So I think everyone’s cool wit’ it.
MF: I know you’re working on another album. What can you say?
AB: Right now I’m actually working on my next project [The Human Highlight Reel], which is done, it should be coming out within the next month or so, and then [I’m] working on another album – and that’s gonna be an official album. This next project is gonna be a free treat for everybody – but don’t tell anyone, all right?
MF: It’s interesting times in hip-hop because all the rules are falling away. Kanye West has shown that you can do something really different with an album launch. Drake did nothing but mixtapes for a year. Do you have any aspirations to break out of the conventions of the music industry?
AB: Well, yeah… I don’t live within the confines of the music industry regulatory things. I try and do things my way. But, at the end of the day, you’ve still gotta do some shit. I’m into television. I wanna be visually seen – I want people to see my body and my face and recognise my eyes, you know?
MF: You got heat last year for Consensual Rape, which dates back to 2011. Do you think hip-hop needs to have a discussion about women’s place in the culture – because they are big fans of the music. What did you take away from that backlash?
AB: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, at the end of the day, that was just a mistake… That song never should have been made. It was a stupid mistake. I regret ever even making it – even though it wasn’t meant in the way that it was taken. It just shouldn’t have been done. The woman’s place in this industry is everywhere. Everyone is on an even playing field. Everyone should be treated with the utmost respect.
I feel like women and men [should be] able to talk about each other freely. If a woman wants to talk about a man in a specific way, true to her experiences, then she should feel free to do that. The same for men. I feel that we should all keep it within the realm of love, though. I don’t think any hate should ever be brought to anybody. It’s all about love…
It was unfortunate the reaction to something that was done when I was obviously not in the right mind-frame of thinking that I would ever be in the public eye or ever be brought under question for some sort of artistic view… So, from my experiences in my life, I try and stay [on] the right path at this point and just be the type of person I was raised to be.
MF: Hip-hop seems to be getting a bit more ‘conscious’ or political. How do you feel about that?
AB: I’m just gonna be honest here. I really don’t care about that type of thing. I’m not fuelled by anything political. I’m not fuelled by anything but that inner fucking fire inside of me wanting to be an artist and to create. I was just born to create things and have these types of artistic visions.
I don’t know… I don’t have a mind for politics! I don’t have a mind for mathematics. I have a mind for biology, I have a mind for aquatics, I have a mind for art… It’s a different part of the brain. I just don’t have that mind for politics. It bores me. It’s just a bunch of blah, blah, blah… you know?
MF: You’ve got this dual career with your role as a chef. What’s happening on that front?
AB: Yeah – my television show, Fuck, That’s Delicious, which costars Big Body Bes, Meyhem Lauren and The Alchemist, we are travelling around the world while I perform. Everyone performs with me and we have adventures and eat incredible things and just live life. It just became pretty much a phenomenon and people love it. So that is gonna be coming out on Viceland March 3rd – it’s gonna be airing every Thursday. We’re signed up for the first season and we got picked up again.
I think there’s gonna be more seasons to come for that. I’ll also be doing my own Action Bronson Presents Munchies episodes on the web still – so that’s global, worldwide. There’ll always be that: me just having dinner with incredible people that I respect, chefs – whether it be from the most upper-class to the most hole-in-the-wall to the most ethnic [restaurants], it doesn’t matter to me. There’s just a lotta things coming – this is just the beginning.
MF: I hope you have some good culinary adventures in Australia. Have you ever had a meat pie?
AB: I’ve had a meat pie, of course! I’ve had a lotta food down there that I really enjoyed… I don’t know if this is wrong but some hunter from the outback wanted to give me kangaroo meat? Is that wrong? I wanna ask you?
MF: It’s quite common now – it’s very hipster, high-end restaurants…
AB: It’s hipster, isn’t it? I’m not gonna have it in a high-end restaurant. This is someone in the outback. I think this guy is like a “Crocodile” Dundee-type of dude…
MF: I guess it’s culturally acceptable?
AB: All right. As long as it’s culturally acceptable. Of course… But it’s all about tasting people’s indigenous foods. I don’t care about the other shit. I care about the tradition. People need to know where they come from and they need to know what they ate and what the people from that region ate before them and how they survived. It’s a long lineage of tradition!
People have to know where they come from. I feel like people get lost in so much shit that they don’t know where they’re from anymore. We have to carry our traditions!”
MF: If you ate a koala, however, that would not be cool.
AB: I don’t think I would ever eat that! It’s too cute. [But] I feel like all lifeforms are cute. It’s not right to eat anything, but people need it to survive – and this is the way people have been living for millions of years. As long as man has been on this earth. Who knows how long?
MF: So are you actually going to go to the outback this time?
AB: One hundred per cent. We’re probably gonna spend a couple of days in the outback.
Action Bronson hits Aussie shores next week, grab all the dates and ticket links below!
Action Bronson Australian Tour 2016
Monday, 7th March
Villa Nightclub, Perth
Tickets: Live Nation
Thursday, 10th March
The Met, Brisbane
Tickets: Live Nation
Sunday, 13th March
Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Tickets: Live Nation
Tuesday, 15th March
The Forum, Melbourne
Tickets: Live Nation